MT: Needle and Thread Repairs

This is an installment in a series on mending techniques.  For a full index of posts in this series, please click here.

Tutorials for stitches and knots and other techniques not illustrated below can be found here.

Unless otherwise noted, these repairs are best suited to a doubled thread and a sharp sewing needle.


A broken seam when you have access to the seam side of the object is possibly the easiest mending task.  Find the broken ends of the threads on both sides of the gap– note that if the original threads were doubled, you are looking for TWO ends on each side of the gap– join your doubled thread ends with the broken end(s) and replicate the original seam across the gap until you reach the broken end(s) on the other side, then join the thread again.  Trim thread ends.

If the seam is broken and you cannot access the seam side of the piece, the best choice is usually ladder stitch.  Find the broken ends of the threads on both sides of the gap, and pick out the seam until the broken ends fall on the wrong side of the seam before joining your thread ends with them.  Work a ladder stitch across the gap until you reach the broken ends on the other side, and join the thread again, making sure this knot will also fall on the wrong side of the seam.  Now bury the ends inside the piece.

A gaped seam is an easy fix, but is often evidence of a more serious problem somewhere along the length of the thread.  Often, if you carefully check the whole seam, you will find a break in the thread further along.

Sometimes, however, a seam will gape without the thread being compromised.  This most often happens in seams along firmly-stuffed sections of soft toys– the problem is that the original stitching was too loose or became too loose when the object was stuffed or washed.  The best approach is to leave the gaping seam in place and simply add a new, tighter seam just to the outside of it, enclosing the too-loose original stitches into the seam allowance.  It is extremely important to ensure that the knot you use to start your repair is hidden– you might be tempted to use a quilter’s knot, but in my experience they are not secure enough for this task.  Instead, I recommend placing a tailor’s knot on what will become the new seam allowance.  When you have finished working your new seam, bury your thread ends inside it.  For most instances of a gaped seam, ladder stitch is the best choice, but sometimes a whipstitch or other decorative stitch may be used instead.


Often a thread in a hem will snap because the original hem stitching was not elastic enough (knit garments are especially prone to this), in which case the best approach is to unpick the whole hem and redo it with a more elastic stitch.  In order of decreasing elasticity, the options for hems are: raw edge, serger or overlock, “stretch” stitch (an option on many newer sewing machines), zig-zag, whipstitch (press the hem as usual, and use a whipstitch to attach the fold to the garment), blanket stitch, running stitch, and finally backstitch.  If you can’t choose a more elastic stitch, decrease the tension or use a more elastic thread.

In other cases, the hem has deteriorated as the seam allowance or the pressed edge slowly frays, which requires the addition of trim or a guard, and is no longer a needle and thread repair.  This will be covered in amendments and additions.

Sometimes, especially in children’s clothing, the original hem is still in fine condition, but nonetheless must be replaced to let the garment out or take it in.  If you are replacing a hem to let out a garment, unpick the original hem and apply a new one at the required length.  If you are taking in a garment, leave the original hem intact and simply hem again to achieve the required length.  This way, if you need to let out the hem again to restore the item to its original length, all you must do is unpick the new stitches.

Linings and Appliqués

This kind of repair is more about artistry than technique.  The key is to take small stitches and be clever about hiding them.  I use a single thread for these repairs.

Start by anchoring your thread with a quilter’s knot or tailor’s knot.  Which one you use is a matter of personal preference and also the specific task at hand– quilter’s knots are a great way to start repairing a lacy appliqué on a formal gown, whereas I tend to use a tailor’s knot tucked into the interface between outer and lining to anchor my thread when I am touching up a lining.

To repair a topstitched lining or appliqué, use a running stitch or backstitch.  Most other repairs in this category, such as a loose lining on a jacket, will be best suited to a ladder stitch.

To finish, knot and bury your thread end.

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